An outgrowth of the State Department’s transition to remote work, the Cross Functional Task Force, will evaluate the department’s past, present and future work environment. The goal is to develop a strategy to direct what the agency builds to meet its needs years into the future.
“Like every other agency, and many companies when we went to maximum telework, we really had to scramble to get all the pieces and parts working together. Fortunately, we had a lot of infrastructure in place that enabled us to continue to operate,” State Department Chief Information Officer Stuart McGuigan told “Government Matters.” “When we had a moment, we sat back and said, what do we like about what we’ve done, that [could] extend beyond the pandemic?”
A survey of State employees revealed a surprise to McGuigan and his colleagues in the C-suite. “We … found that there were quite a few people who thought they were even more productive teleworking, and the majority of the people were at least as productive, or more productive, teleworking,” McGuigan said.
That finding led to the formation of the Cross Functional Task Force. Its name comes from the stakeholders involved. “[The task force] represents not just technology, but HR and finance and legal,” McGuigan told “Government Matters.”
Another surprise for State leadership was the flexibility of the workforce in hundreds of embassies and missions around the world. “There was no telling how well [remote work] was going to work,” McGuigan said. “For [full-time-equivalent government employees], we know what the residences are like; they all have internet and Wi-Fi. But for many of our foreign nationals, [who] are really the backbone of the workforce overseas, we weren’t really sure how that would work. While there’s always opportunity for improvement, it actually worked pretty well. People worked from their home, got their jobs done, whether in technology or in diplomacy or operations, and it was an amazing thing.”
The pandemic accelerated another concept in the IT shop at State – the “minimally viable product.” “Because this was an existential set of requirements, we had to make applications that had only been available in the office on our networks, available through browsers, to people in their homes, securely and safely,” McGuigan said. “Until those applications [were] available, people couldn’t work, so we didn’t have to argue about bells and whistles. We just said, ‘what is the minimum amount of capability that we can securely provide access to, do that, and move on to the next one.’ And we found that our velocity was just incredible.”
That velocity is one reason McGuigan thinks the MVP concept will stick at State. “We have a lot of people … who are innovators, who make things work in very extreme environments,” he said. “The idea that you’re going to patch things together in order to have something work to execute on our mission [is] not too foreign for us…I like to think that it’s actually compatible with the culture of the State Department long-term.”